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This Thursday map of Hurricane Delta's projected path indicates the storm moved to the west overnight. The eye of the hurricane is now expected to pass near Alexandria s the storm comes through Central Louisiana Friday night. {AccuWeather map}

Delta shifts toward Alexandria but still likely to include Avoyelles in its Cenla route

Since Wednesday night, Hurricane Delta has moved to the west, weakened in power and grown in size. The storm is no longer the compact, Category 4-5 threat moving at a breakneck 20 mph toward Louisiana's central Gulf Coast. It is now projected to strike as a Category 2 or 3 hurricane farther to the west, but still east of where Laura struck last month. Landfall is expected around 4 p.m. Friday.

The storm's northeast sweeping path through Central Louisiana is now projected to send the eye of the storm passing near Alexandria, rather than directly through Avoyelles Parish. However, Delta's expanded size means it will still include Avoyelles in that path. Delta could still be a Category 1 hurricane or a strong tropical storm when it comes through Friday night.

It is predicted to weaken to a tropical storm by early Saturday morning as it heads toward the Ark-La-Miss corner en route toward Greenville, Miss., and then into Tennessee.

Delta's reduced ferocity does not mean it is no longer dangerous. Even at a Cat 2 level, the storm would pack 105 mph winds. At Cat 3, the sustained winds would be 115 mph. It will bring flooding rains and a storm surge of 11 feet in some coastal areas. It is expected to cause between $1 billion and $3 billion of damage and threaten almost 300,000 Gulf Coast homes and businesses with its storm surge.

Its expanded size means its strong winds and rain will extend farther out than originally predicted, the National Hurricane Center noted.

Weather watchers were trying to determine Thursday whether the cooler Gulf waters off the Louisiana coast would be enough to reign in Delta's power to a Cat 2 storm or if it would barrel through as a Cat 3 major hurricane.

As of Thursday morning, forecasters indicated Cameron Parish would be spared the brunt of a second major hurricane. Its eastern neighbors are expected to be "ground zero" for Delta's arrival.

Even before it arrives, Delta has caused problems for the nation. It has forced 80 percent of the oil production and 49 percent of natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico to shut down Wednesday.

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